You’ve seen from previous posts that my boss shares my love of food, and regularly comes up with good suggestions. It was he who recommended the Wine House, as well as Pizza Pilgrims. So when he came in waxing lyrical about the “best burger he’d ever had”, it got added to the list sharpish.
While I had heard of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Byron, and the Handmade Burger Co., Five Guys, short for Five Guys Burger and Fries, was a new name to me. A bit of research revealed it’s actually quite a big deal. It started in 1986 in Washington DC as a ‘carry-out burger joint’, but now has more than 1,200 restaurants, with plenty more coming, across the US, UK and Canada.
The chain has apparently been voted No 1 Burger for the last 11 years in the US in the Zagat Fast Food Survey, so that, coupled with my boss’s rave review, meant I was hoping for great things.
Birmingham’s branch of Five Guys is in the Bullring, and pretty hard to miss. If anything ever looked like an American diner, this is it. Bright lights, the hustle and bustle of a fast food joint, yet with a bit more cheeriness than your average Maccy Ds or Burger King.
The counter is long and spacious, with staff – who incidentally were some of the most jolly, cheerful and friendly fast food staff I’ve ever come across – moving at lightning quick speed on one of the most impressive burger production lines I’ve ever seen. From there you remove yourself to the seating area of modern wooden tables. This isn’t a place to sit for hours whiling away the time. This is somewhere you grab your burger, snaffle it, then move on.
The menu is simple. Hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, bacon cheeseburger. Or little hamburger, little cheeseburger, little bacon burger, or little bacon cheeseburger.
You can have a hotdog, a kosher hotdog, a cheese dog, a bacon dog, or a bacon cheese dog.
They do sandwiches too, but to be honest, I reckon if this is all you’re coming for, you’d be better staying at home. You can get a veggie sandwich, a cheese veggie sandwich, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a BLT. But come on, if that’s all you’re after, you don’t need to be here, in the world of burgers. Oh, and those veggie sarnies don’t have veggie patties in them by the way – they don’t do them. So definitely stay at home.
From this point on, it’s all about the toppings. You can choose as many as you like, out of mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A1 steak sauce, barbecue sauce, hot sauce. Yep, all of them, should you so desire.
We settled on a simple cheeseburger with lettuce, grilled onions, ketchup, and jalapeño peppers. The burger comes wrapped in foil in what I imagine is quite an authentic look, although I have yet to try a burger stateside, other than in an airport. The aforementioned lightning quick assembly line meant it was still nice and hot, and the cheese all gooey and melty. According to Five Guys, their patties are all hand-formed using fresh ground beef. They also claim to have no freezers because everything is completely fresh. I’m not sure whether I’m enough of a connoisseur to notice this freshness and hand-formedness, but it was certainly a nice burger. Simple, compared to the likes of things we tried at Burgergeddon, but Five Guys don’t claim to be gourmet burgers. They’re more a good ol’ simple American burger, which sometimes is exactly what you want.
To be fair, it was a pretty darn good burger. For fast food, it certainly beats McDonald’s or Burger King (though it does cost more). But the best burger I’ve ever had? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because we only had a few toppings, maybe we just expected a bit much, but I’m not sure it beat every single burger I’ve ever had. Either way, it was yummy and certainly hit the spot.
We also tried some of Five Guys fries. Again, I’d been told these were to die for, so had high hopes. And yes, they were stonkingly brilliant. Five Guys reckon they only use pure peanut oil to fry their fries. Maybe it’s this, maybe it’s the way they’re cut, maybe it’s the seasoning, or maybe it’s the fact they come in a paper cup which is then put in a paper bag, leaving plenty of extra fries swimming round at the bottom, but they really are great. Just the right amount of crisp on the outside, with a nice fluffiness on the inside. I could have eaten several portions of these before getting bored.
For the chips, Five Guys is definitely memorable. For the burger, less so. And I think it’s dividing burger lovers all over the place. One friend of mine went and had every single topping, and swore it was an utterly amazing experience, while my brother-in-law insists that it’s not a patch on Byron. I guess every chain is going to have its die-hard fans who won’t hear a bad word said about it, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep on searching until I find my burger heaven.
We paid for our burgers at Five Guys.